Nick Peet: Will the real Joshua Buatsi please stand up?

May 19, 2022May 21st, 2022

When Joshua Buatsi stepped off the plane with an Olympic bronze medal slung around his neck in the Autumn of 2016, the Londoner was the hottest prospect in British boxing.

Despite losing his semi-final in Rio, Brazil, his eye-catching performances and a series of knockout victories ensured he was every UK promoter’s #1 choice post-Games signing.

However, six years have passed, and fight fans are still waiting for Buatsi’s professional career to truly ignite.

Finally, this weekend, all questioned will be answered when the 29-year-old locks horns with domestic rival and former world title contender Craig Richards at the O2 Arena.

My Buatsi assessment may read harsh, after all, he is unbeaten in 15 fights with 13 wins arriving early. But every one of his previous foes was hand-picked to preserve that unbeaten run.

Just one fight has featured a truly recognisable championship belt – the British – which he won effortlessly, but quickly cast aside without defence back in 2019.

In a division stacked with talent domestically, the fact Buatsi has side-stepped all of them so far has left the door wide open to criticism.

But all that can change on Saturday night.

‘Spider’ Richards is more than capable of an ‘upset’, if you can label it as such. His 17-2-1 career is stacked with tough domestic matchmaking, late notice opportunities and underdog victories.

The pick of the bunch, albeit a loss, is his 12-round world title challenge last year, when he took WBO king Dmitrii Bivol to the judge’s cards when few people gave him hope of making it past six rounds.

Bivol has just defeated pound-for-pound great Canelo Alvarez in his first fight since, ensuring Spider’s performance receives further kudos, both publicly and psychologically too.

In his mind he’s been the distance with the best 175lb’er on the planet. So why fear Buatsi, a fighter he’s familiar with as they sparred previously and boxed as amateurs?

Richards is game, carries decent power, and is more experienced as a pro. He won’t freeze and stand in front of Buatsi when the opening bell goes.

But the 32-year-old will need to move his feet and keep that jab pumping to stop Buatsi from getting into his rhythm.

An intelligent fighter that stalks his opponents, Buatsi is as dangerous in round one as he is in round 12. Whilst his opposition may have been limited, he’s impressed going through the gears with fast hands, patient offence and bullish brute strength.

Throw in a bit of London pride too, and this match-up has all the hallmarks of a British fight of the year contender.

Expectation built on those legit amateur credentials will ensure Buatsi starts as favourite. But, if Richards can get his nose in front, we just might witness something a bit special unfold down the stretch.

And, with the likes of Anthony Yarde, Callum Johnson, Callum Smith, Dan Azeez and Lyndon Arthur waiting in the wings, the domestic light-heavyweight class could be about to take over.

TIP: Buatsi via Knockout in rounds 7-9